What are the products of your artistic work?
I. M.: That is quite a difficult question to begin with. Works of art do actually materialize here and there. In my case, they usually are not objects that can simply be taken off the wall and transported somewhere else. They usually are deeply connected to the place they inhabit, and, once removed, they often just fade away. But your question about “the product” interests me – in that it becomes a question about all these immaterialities. I would claim that these, too, are results of my artistic work – but they probably are not products. Things like how artists and creative people act within social contexts and effect change there. This is invisible work, but I would boldly state that it is indeed my main focus – and that it is intimately connected to the works that you can look at, those object-like outcomes.
Could you please describe the kind of content that your work is about ?
I. M.: In a way, I always deal with political themes, and that also has to do with how I see myself as an artist, namely: as an actor within the public sphere. Because of my political activism or because of my sexual orientation, I am confronted with issues that play a major role in my life and to which I react, and this not only with art. I live in Saxony, and the political conditions there pre-occupy me a lot, both as an activist and as a leftist. And thus certain topics are quite obvious and a source of energy for my artistic work.
What motivates you to work as an artist?
I. M.: That is an almost biographical question. I only began to take an interest in art very late in life because I had not encountered it in my family context. I think I began to be interested in it as soon as I understood that in art, things are discussed that are relevant to the world and that they are not only discussed in formats like newspaper articles, discussion, language, but that they open up completely different domains. At the same time, I was also interested in an art that is strongly connected to society. And I think that is where my motivation lies, that for me and I hope for others as well it is a hugely enriching way of thinking about the world. And that is something I find highly political, and it has enormous potential. It is not enough for me as the sole strategy, that is why I am also politically active otherwise. But art has methods and possibilities that resist certain logics that are considered normal by society. That at least would be the hope, although I am sceptical about that myself. But let’s put it this way: it is at least a field in which rules and norms can be debated.
And I want to add one last thing: For me there were role models and people who supported me, points of reference if you like. All of them were actually women who are older than me, not least my professor at the academy. And today there is also a large circle of colleagues and friends. All these people are the reason why I get up in the morning and go to the studio.
In your artistic work, are there any values you feel guided by?
I. M.: Yes, definitely. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool leftist, I would even say: an anarchist. And that is the basis of my work. Such values are very close to people: I am a big fan of the whole range of human facets, situations and conditions. I like this phrase “the human factor”. So I want to know and I want to work on how we live together – and above all, I have the vision that a better way of living together is possible. A better life for all. This is a fundamental conviction of mine, and I will not let go of it. This, obviously, means to work against discrimination. It means to think about racism, also my own. It means to take a stand against homophobia in our society. It means to fight against capitalism, because this is not a form of society or an economic system that makes it possible for all people to live a good life. It means to be an anti-fascist. Deep down this is something truly human, i.e. this love for the world, I would say. All this is of real value to me, and I see that there are many people around me who find this within themselves, however they would call it. Some of them end up in the arts and I fight alongside them so that all these values get a chance in this world.
Do effectiveness and efficiency play a role in your thinking, and what would it mean to be efficient in your artistic work?
I. M.: Unfortunately, efficiency plays a certain role. It probably has something to do with my personality or with the working conditions I have to juggle, i.e. currently three jobs, various social contacts, a long-distance relationship and all this life stuff on top. That’s why I feel compelled to work efficiently and to manage my time really well and to be effective in the time I have. Unfortunately, there are often deadlines, i. e. an exhibition opens, a book has to get out, there is a printing deadline, and this is where efficiency is necessary. But I would also say that I am continually fighting this effectiveness as best as I can. Earlier, I had spoken about the poetic components (note), which I think cannot be elaborated in this logic, and which simply disappear if the diary for the day has a different block with a different context every two hours.
Effectiveness is really bad for me, and it has a lot to do with the way we do business, how we live, what kind of resource time is. That’s why I would like to fight it every day. I do not know how successful I am there. It helps me in my everyday life that there is a day for the studio, for example, and that I try as hard as I can to avoid determining in advance what will happen in the studio on that day. This helps me to be ineffective.
What is the service you offer through your work? This implies two questions: What is your service, and which contribution do you make with your artistic work? And what does this work then do within society?
I. M.: To answer this question I need to first clear this hurdle of ‘service’ or ‘performance’. As a matter of fact, it is a category that I do not like to speak or think about, largely because of this undertone that everybody and anyone must perform. That is fundamentally not how I see it. I do not believe that every person must or should make a contribution to society. I think that everyone already does this simply by their mere presence. I also do not think this with regard to paid work. I do not think that every person must do paid work. I think that people who cannot or do not want to do so have their good reasons and are nevertheless an equally important part of society.
But on the other hand: When I think about service in the sense of my contribution to society, I hope that through my work I open up spaces that contribute to the reflection on how a better life is possible for everyone. This is where I see my “service”, in quotation marks, in that I contribute to the social discourse and to reflection on the world in general. In concrete terms, this is expressed in the fact that I organize events, people come to them, or I exhibit something, people see it. Sometimes I invite people to speak somewhere, sometimes I make a newspaper that is then available or an audio piece that people can listen to. Or I go into conversation with people. My political activism may add other forms to that as well. Right now I am co-teaching a seminar with a colleague and we try to make students come up with ideas about where they are studying, what the history of that place is. All of these are my contributions.
Which are your criteria for the quality of your work? What criteria must be met for you to think of it as a job well done?
I. M.: I consider a work to be well done if I see a social relevance in it. But that can be taken very broadly. Even in a small drawing I can see great social relevance. Not that it has to be even thematically related. I think that it is successful and good if I have the feeling that it is a real contribution to a reflection on what kind of perspectives of the world there might be. And, of course, there is this idea that we must find a good form for it. That is the profession of the artist, to find a good form for these social contributions and moments of reflection.
What is a good form? Are there any criteria?
I. M.: As far as I am concerned – but I would not apply that to all my work – it is important that it has a certain capacity for connection, that people in some way see a small door for themselves to get in. Another criterion would be that it should be crafted well, that the form should be right, that it is not a last-minute solution. After all, it is my job to think about how to show something and the kind of image that I can find for it? And then it is really important that the image fits. That is what really takes time: to think about and work out this form.
For myself, I have noticed that a good work is also an energy store that leads to further work. Sometimes I do not even know that at the time. But when I started my research project on lesbian literature in the twenties, I just thought I was going to do a reading, and now it has been going on for more than three years. There are always new doors opening up in the texts and through the characters I have met in the books. There is a whole chain of things which again and again give me the feeling that it is fun to share them with others. It is such a rich treasure of stories and material about loving, living, desiring. In that sense there cannot be any closure. This is also a sign of quality, I think.
And to make a distinction, for me works that refer to themselves alone are not that interesting. You could open up this l’art pour l’art (“art for art’s sake”) discussion. And now my bold hypothesis: works by people who do not perceive themselves in context at all are problematic, too. One could connect with this whole tradition of the male artistic genius, with this inner attitude in making a work. I think you can see it in a work when it is created with such an attitude. I do not think this is interesting, and I do not think it is even relevant any more for the time we live in. I also do not like to look at it that much, because I find it uninteresting. I am perhaps interested in something like dialogue, for the work to enter into dialogue with the viewer, with the world and the artist.
I. M.: I have these very simple little goals. I want to become better technically, to know more about a few technical tools.
I want to get back to where I have been before, namely to work more with people. I have recently lost a few collective work contexts. I do not want to make my way in the long run just as an individual artist.
And then, of course, there are goals in terms of content. I want to get involved politically, I also want to achieve something and I want to find the right outlets for that. Whether I need to take part in an exhibition or a discussion, or whether I need to give a seminar at an art university, that is almost of secondary importance. But I want to have a say in how this world develops and I really want to get involved! Because I have no desire at all for things to continue as they are now, and I take a certain combative stance. I really want a better life for everyone. And I think I am not going too far out on a limb when I see my artistic work as a small contribution to this struggle. That is a goal. And to stay in touch with other people, to see what do the others want, what can it look like, what are everyone’s needs? How can they become reality? This is a true goal.
Finally, a question that goes beyond your artistic work. If you look from today to the art of the future, how will art and artistic work change in the coming decades?
I. M.: I lack a crystal ball! But I do have some hopes, of course. For example, that the immense imbalance between who speaks and who is listened to is going to change. Where are the professors of colour at the art academies? Who makes the exhibitions and who writes the reviews?
But I also think that we will be forced to defend the freedom of art and progressive culture against right-wing attacks. We should better start with that right away. In Poland and Hungary these attacks have been intense in recent years, in Russia censorship and repression seem to have become the norm. We must never tolerate this. And personally, of course, I also hope that art will remain political and relevant. The potential is far from exhausted. We need real visions.
published in: Gabriele Lucie Freudenreich, working on art – Interviews with Female Artists, edited by Künstlergut Prösitz e.V., 2020 Wien/ Prösitz